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The Ohio Employment Law Uniformity Act

Ohio House Bill 352 (HB 352), known as the Employment Law Uniformity Act, was signed into law by Governor DeWine on January 12, 2021.  The Act goes into effect on April 15, 2021.  The new law makes changes to several areas of Ohio’s employment discrimination laws.

 

Statute of Limitations

The Employment Law Uniformity Act shortens the time period for filing Ohio employment discrimination claims in court from six (6) years to two (2) years.  Prior to the new law, Ohio employers could experience difficulty in defending discrimination claims because many times documents were no longer available or witnesses were no longer employed.  Further, Ohio employers should be aware that the Act also extends the statute of limitations for filing an administrative charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) from 180 days to two (2) years.  Therefore, the new law creates uniformity for filing claims in court and with the Administrative Agency (OCRC) to two (2) years.

 

Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

The Act implements a new requirement under Ohio law in that an employee must first file a charge of discrimination with the OCRC and receive a “right to sue letter” BEFORE filing such claims in court.  In other words, employees must now exhaust their administrative remedies before filing in court.  Prior to the Act, employment discrimination claims could be filed in state common pleas courts without first filing with the OCRC or such claims could have been pursued simultaneously.  The Act now requires the exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to filing in court.

 

Claims Against Supervisors

Since 1999, employment discrimination claims against individual supervisors and managers have been allowed pursuant to the holding of the Ohio Supreme Court in Genaro v. Central Transport, Inc..  Individual supervisors and managers were personally liable under Ohio’s employment law for discrimination charges from 1999 to the present.  However, the Act removes individual supervisor and manager liability by redefining the definition of “employer”.  The Act simply removes “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer” from the statutory definition of employer.  Importantly, the Act further includes a statement of intent to supersede the effect of the Ohio Supreme Court’s holding in the Genaro case.   Therefore, as long as supervisors and managers are not acting outside the scope of employment, they are no longer subject to personal liability for employment discrimination claims.

 

Sexual Harassment Affirmative Defense

The Act codifies an affirmative defense for Ohio employers in a new section of the Ohio Revised Code, Section 4112.054.   An Ohio employer, pursuant to R.C. 4112.054, can now defend against sexual harassment claims as long as it can prove 1) the employer had an effective anti-harassment policy; 2) employees were educated by the employer about the policy and reporting procedures with documented training; 3) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent or promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior; and 4) the employee claiming sexual harassment failed to take advantage of preventative or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.  The Act codified the affirmative defense available to Ohio employers for federal claims of sexual harassment under Title VII.  This new law highlights the importance for employers of developing an effective anti-discrimination policy, providing regular and documented training on the policy, and performing prompt investigation of sexual harassment complaints.

 

Age Discrimination

As in the past, age discrimination by Ohio employers is prohibited.  However, the Act now aligns the procedural requirements of age discrimination claims with other protected class.  In other words, the two (2) year statute of limitations and administrative exhaustion requirement applies to age discrimination claims just like other employment discrimination causes of action.  Previous to this new law, age discrimination claims could be pursued under multiple statutory mechanisms resulting in an unnecessary complicated process.

 

Conclusion

Enactment of the Ohio Employment Law Uniformity Act is of benefit to Ohio employers.  The statute of limitations for filing discrimination claims in court and filing an administrative charge with the OCRC are uniform at two (2) years.  The Act eliminated individual supervisor liability for employment discrimination claims.  An important affirmative defense to sexual harassment claims was codified by the Act in R.C. 4112.054.  The procedure for filing and processing Age discrimination claims aligns with other employment discrimination causes of action.  Once again, the Act highlights for Ohio employers the importance of developing clear and effective anti-discrimination policies; communicating those policies effectively to employees; and promptly investigating complaints.

 

Please contact a member of our firm’s Labor and Employment Section for more information or questions on the importance of this new law.

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